California Institute of the Arts:
Critical Studies

Microbial Gardens

Cameron Meakin, Hunter Janos, Cameron Creath, & Fawn Quinn

Microbial Gardens is a full-sized experience of the microscopic world. Guests stroll among photosynthetic architecture where each tower is a unique microbiome generating light, color, and smells.



Douglas Goodwin is an interdisciplinary artist working in technology, artificial intelligence, and language systems. He makes videos, writings, performances, and machines that comment on media fidelity, convenience, and human desire. Notable works include “Kerouac Machine,” a Teletype that delivers occasional communications from Jack Kerouac and “Nonsense nor Sensibility,” a new novel by Jane Austen. Goodwin also works in film and video, notably a dreamy remix of the 1968 film “Bullitt” titled “Artifact #1 (Ford vs. Chevy)” and the “Lossless” series with Rebecca Baron. Lately, he has been collecting interviews on labor issues surrounding the production of color. See for more.


Scientific mentors

Michael Elowitz is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering, and Applied Physics at Caltech. Dr. Elowitz's laboratory has introduced synthetic biology approaches to build and understand genetic circuits in living cells and tissues. Elowitz developed the Repressilator, an artificial genetic clock that generates gene expression oscillations in individual E. coli cells, and since then has continued to design and build other synthetic genetic circuits for programming or rewiring cellular functions. His lab also showed that gene expression is intrinsically stochastic, or ‘noisy’, and revealed how this noise functions to enable a variety of cellular functions, from probabilistic differentiation to time-based regulation. Currently, Elowitz’s lab is bringing synthetic “build to understand” approaches along with dynamic, quantitative single-cell imaging, to the kinds of developmental genetic circuits that allow organisms to develop from fertilized eggs into complex multicellular organisms. In particular, his lab has focused on cell-cell communication, epigenetic memory and cell fate control processes. Most recently, working with Long Cai’s lab, his lab demonstrated a totally synthetic system called MEMOIR that allows cells to record their own histories in their genomes. Elowitz received his PhD in Physics from Princeton University, and did postdoctoral research at Rockefeller University. Honors include the HFSP Nakasone Award, MacArthur Fellowship, Presidential Early Career Award, Allen Distinguished Investigator Award, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

James Linton is a Research Scientist at the California Institute of Technology. He specializes in Confocal Microscopy, Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, and Cell culturing. James recently co-authored a study titled “Synthetic recording and in situ readout of lineage information in single cells.” Termed Memory by Engineered Mutagenesis with Optical In situ Readout(MEMOIR), this system enables cells to record genomic lineage and event histories in a format that may be examined in situ.

Mike Bryant is a biologist and a statistician. His research has appeared in several scientific journals: Science, Nature, American Naturalist, Ecology, PLoS, Animal Behaviour and Environmental Biology OF Fishes. Mike’s research interests in biology include functional anatomy, animal behavior, and life history evolution. One unexpected discovery was that female Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata) have a prolonged post-reproductive lifespan (AKA: menopause).

Recently Mike has put the analytic tools used to study and make comparisons of the lives of freshwater fish to conduct longitudinal studies of students in the California’s primary schools as part of a National Science Foundation-funded study on how to improve K12 mathematics and science education. Mike has also put individual based statistical methodologies to use for generating art as a collaborator in Grisha Coleman’s “Echo::System” project.


Banner image: Michael D. Beckwith, The Leeds Library